Monday, January 29, 2007

Slamdance: The rest of the features

We end our visit to Slamdance with a final group of reviews. Hopefully next year, we'll actually have no troubles at the other film festival.

The King of Kong

A documentary by
Seth Gordon and
Ed Cunningham

The biggest problem in making a documentary is editing. Sometimes the filmmaker has literally hundreds of hours of shooting to work with and cutting it down to an hour or two is really hard work. That was the problem that Seth Gordon faced when he had finally decided it was time to get out that old movieola. After the tedious viewing of hours and hours of footage, Gordon and his coworkers discovered that some of the celphone conversations recorded by his cameramen in New Hampshire and Florida——MATCHED. This changed everything.

This meant that full scenes could be pieced together and the two separate stories told could be told as one. This was very fortuitous, and why this could be the biggest film to ever come out of the Slamdance film festival. Which is strange considering what it’s about: Donkey Kong.

Now I’m not a fan of video games. Well, that’s partly because I was never very good at them. I never actually got past the third level of Ms. Pac Man and couldn’t get past the second level of Donkey Kong. So when you had those mega-gigabyte monstrosities, I never even thought about checking them out. But there are lots of people who have, and one of the surprises is that the “classics” from the 1980s are still being played. Donkey Kong I? When they have Super-Mario conquers the Universe 23? It boggles the mind.

This is about grownups. The two foci of the film, Steve Wiebe and Billy Mitchell, are both married and have children. They are also in their 40s and should be beyond this sort of thing. But no. This is a kind of triviality, which brings out the worst in people, and as Weibe’s daughter so eloquently puts it, “people have ruined their lives trying to get into the Guiness Book of World Records.”

It’s all about the book. When he was a kid, Mitchell had scored 800 thousand on Donkey Kong and the record had stood for decades. Then a few years ago, Wiebe, who had bought an old machine, broke a million. He video taped it and sent it into Twin Galaxies, the official referee agency for things like that, and it was verified, for a short time. Then they sent a couple of people to break into Wiebe’s house and tore up the machine to see if he was cheating. All hell breaks loose and Wiebe demands a chance at redemption. Walter Day, owner of Twin Galaxies and lord high scorekeeper in the world of classic video games, tells him to go to the Funspot Family Fun Ctr. in Weirs Beach, NH, which is THE place to do such things officially, and prove himself in public.

This is the stuff of high drama, and there’s skullduggery, backstabbing, and all sorts of nastiness. While being arrogant is to be expected at the very top of any sport, Mitchell’s fight to keep his record is down and dirty, and he’s clearly the villain here. This is a classic story told in a classic way, and really exiting. It’s well earned its theatrical release.

Darius Films

Directed by
Allan Moyle

Recently, there was a major motion picture called “Déjà vu.” It was a science fiction action flick about time travel. This has nothing to do with the flick in question. However this film DID remind me of the title, because I definitely had a major case of it while watching.

“Déjà vu” is when you feel you’ve been someplace or seen something before when it’s clear that you haven’t. I could have sworn that I’ve seen bits and pieces of this film before SOMEWHERE, but it’s quite clear that Willem Wennekers’ screenplay is entirely original, and just feels like a retread. Consider…

Dexter(Scott Speedman) and Royce(Wes Bentley) are stoners living in the Canadian north. The film starts with them being threatened, but we immediately flash back to three days before, where they and Royce’s girlfriend Matilda(Taryn Manning) are about to rob the mansion of comatose millionaire Jason Taylor(Matt Frewer), but can’t get themselves to do it. The reason they are considering such action is that Dexter owes local bad guy Omar(Raoul Bhaneja) over a grand, but Omar has an idea. Our heroes can take sell some of Omar’s stash and make back the debt that way. But since they’re stoners, Royce and Matilda snort it all, and the latter appears to be dead. This kind of sounds like a Cheech and Chong movie doesn’t it?

So obviously, they can’t call the cops, and are going to bury her in the basement of the local bijou, but at that exact time, a bunch of local Satanists(Greg Bryk, Maggie Castle and Dax Ravina) holding a human sacrifice, and since this goes awry and Matilda revives, and some mystical energy has been misplaced, the usual silly chase around town takes place, including trips back to the mansion and the mall, where there’s a altercation with a diminutive security guard(Jordan Prentice). Everything’s so obvious that we think we’ve seen this before dozens of times.

Yes, parts of it are actually funny, and there are plenty of giggles throughout, but everything seems like it was done paint-by-numbers. This is a bit of a waste, unless you’re wasted. Which, I guess is why the Canadian government invested the people’s hard earned tax dollars on it.
You Are Here

Written and Directed
by Henry Pincus

Fantasies don’t always have to do with elves, fairies, whips and chains, sometimes they have to do with shiny happy people living shiny happy lives. Sure they have problems, but these are problems most of us people would love to have. So Henry Pincus, who has managed to get financing for a silly, disposable script, has also managed to get a halfway decent cast of twentysomethings who’ve been mucking around the bottom of the middle of the Hollywood pecking order to do the obligatory indie film which will pay the rent for a couple of months while they search for that big break and put their private lives in the tabloids.

Ryan (Patrick Flueger) awakes in Apple’s (Katie Cassidy) bed. This freaks him out because he though that he was going to do that with his unrequited love Cassie (Lauren German). So he calls his pal Mick (Adam Campbell) and recounts the whole sordid mess. Apparently Ryan is a DJ at a local LA club, and as he was not cad enough a couple of nights before, his relationship with Cassie has been a bit on the rocks. But of course Apple and Amber (Amber Heard) want to get into his pants too, and there are the usual sitcom complications.

Soon after Ryan has recounted his “night in clubbie hell”, Mick receives another phone call. This time, it’s Cassie’s pal Aubrey(Bijou Phillips), who recounts many of the same events previously described. Soon, we have everyone in the(Chris Lowell, Theo Nicholas Pagones and a couple of others I kind of forget), except the fifty-something gangster type(Michael Biehn), also recount the night’s events. There is faux danger having to do with debt and designer drugs, but it’s still shiny happy people with tiny widdle problems, a pilot for “Friends: The Next Generation.”

What keeps this thing from being a total snorer is the fact that the female cast is hot as molten iron, and the guys are also actually pretty good. In fact, everyone has gotten work since this thing, and this will be one of those films that five years from now, entertainment journalists will show clips of when one of the cast has hit it big on TV. However, this will not actually go anywhere except the bottom of the video bin or cable.


Written and Directed
By Gary Walkow

This is about male fantasy, pure and simple. Richard (Campbell Scott), the noted blocked writer, is thrown out of his palatial California mansion by his gorgeous movie-star wife, and luckily for him, he had been invited to speak to his ex-lover Diane’s (Alex Kingston) writing class at some LA college. When his plight is made known, two beauteous students, who are also roommates, named Kristen (Izabella Miko) and Jacqueline (Lizzy Caplan), invite our hero to crash at their pad for a while, and he takes them up on it. Male fantasy, pure and simple, what guy wouldn’t want to be in that situation?

So Richard moves in and begins investigating the private lives of his hostesses, checking out the contents of their desks and computers, what’s in their drawers and the like, and while he offers to pay them rent, all they want is for him to give them private writing lessons, something he readily agrees to. It’s all very autobiographical, as auteur Walkow has Richard discuss a previous work of his ad infinitum. Since this is not a short, we get to watch the two hotties discuss literary analysis and story structure before Richard finally gets each of them in bed. In fact he describes it as just the fantasy he was talking about.

The acting is good, however the script is entirely predictable. Richard gets exactly what he wants out of every situation, although he's intellectual enough to keep from looking like a tired old letch. Good for him. This is one of those independent films that thespians do to pay the rent and get some "intellectual" credits between TV guest appearances and Horror movies. This is going to wind up on an obscure cable channel and never be seen again.

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